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Biden and his stack of executive actions. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP News
Biden and his stack of executive actions. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP News

Biden’s racial equity executive order push is another effort to undo four years of trauma

There are still many difficult conversations to be had around the issue of racism in the U.S., but President Biden has a start.

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President Joe Biden signed a series of executive actions revolving around “equity” policy on Tuesday, Jan. 26. 

His agenda is focused on police reform, prison reform, public housing and advancing racial equity and support for “underserved” communities. 

“America has never lived up to its founding promise of equality for all, but we’ve never stopped trying. Today, I’ll take action to advance racial equity and push us closer to that more perfect union we’ve always strived to be,” the president tweeted on the morning of Jan. 26. 

Biden is rapidly wiping the slate clean from much of the harm enacted by his predecessor. 

He plans to reinstate an Obama-era policy that barred the transfer of military equipment, such as grenade launchers and bayonets, to local police departments. 

The order was signed in the wake of the civil unrest over the death of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown and the critiques over the “militarized” police response. Trump lifted the equipment ban in 2017. 

The President is also seeking to improve prison conditions and eliminate the use of private prisons, a goal he was vocal about during his campaign. 

Not always on the right side of history

Biden’s history on voting in Congress on criminal justice and prison reform issues have evolved over the years. 

He helped draft the 1994 crime bill, which critics have argued led to an era of mass incarceration. In a 1993 Senate floor speech in favor of the bill, Biden warned of the “predators on our streets.” 

But it seems that Biden is reflecting on his past beliefs and actions and attempting to atone for the detrimental impact he made by concentrating on police and prison reform. 

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019, he was vocal about his past mistakes., 

“You know, I’ve been in this fight for a long time. It goes not just to voting rights. It goes to the criminal justice system. I haven’t always gotten things right, but I’ve always tried,” he said. 

White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice said Biden will also direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development to take steps necessary to promote equitable housing policy.

"President Biden has made clear, advancing equity is everybody's job," Rice said.

Equity and justice for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) is also a huge priority. 

The Biden transition team and White House Domestic Policy Council have been preparing for weeks to execute direct action geared towards these communities, and have sought guidance from several outside groups. 

The new directives are expected to include guidance to the Department of Justice to improve their data collection on reports of hate incidents and harassment toward Asian-Americans, which have increased during the pandemic

Through the self-reporting tool from the advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, they’ve recorded more than 2,600 reports of hate incidents, ranging from racial slurs to physical violence, including acid and knife attacks. 

Not surprisingly, much of the violence and harassment stemmed from the xenophobic rhetoric perpetuated by former president Donald Trump. On multiple occasions, Trump has referred to COVID-19 as “kung flu” and the “China virus.” 

 

 

For this reason, Biden’s plan also seeks to direct federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services to examine where xenophobic references like this exist in any policies, directives or government websites published by the Trump administration. 

Beyond the administration’s own moves, advocacy groups are urging it to take further actions by directing the attorney general to investigate and initiate civil actions on anti-AAPI crime. 

Biden’s goals are ambitious and lofty, and some of them are purely symbolic, but they are absolutely a step in the right direction. 

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